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Backchecking: Al Secord stays 'under the radar'

Al Secord notched 495 points and 2093 penalty minutes in 766 career NHL games. (THN Archive)

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Al Secord notched 495 points and 2093 penalty minutes in 766 career NHL games. (THN Archive)

BY ALAN BASS

Imagine a former NHL player who used to fly down the wing, flying through the sky guiding a commercial jet. A man, who just 25 years ago, was using his intuition to make the right play on the ice, now making crucial decisions and the right play in the air.

Al Secord, who played from 1978-79 through 1989-90 for Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia, is now a first officer for American Airlines, based in Dallas.

After winning the Memorial Cup with Hamilton in 1976, Secord was drafted 16th overall in 1978 by Boston and suited up for the B’s for two and a half seasons before being traded to the Blackhawks in 1980.

Secord played the best hockey of his career in Chicago, scoring 44 and 54 goals in consecutive years on a line with Denis Savard and Steve Larmer. In 1981-82, he became the only player in NHL history to register 40 goals and more than 300 penalty minutes in a single season, a standard that still stands today.

Following a seven-year tenure in Chicago, Secord was traded to Toronto, then Philadelphia, before signing with the Blackhawks as a free agent for one more season in 1989. He concluded a solid NHL run with 273 goals, 495 points in 766 games and 2,093 penalty minutes.

Secord, now 51, started making plans for his post-NHL career during his prime in his mid-20s.

“It was the summer of 1985, in the off-season, that I started going to (pilot) school,” Secord said. “My interest of flying came from working for the Ministry of Natural Resources as a ground firefighter. While I was working on these fires, the water bombers would come in and drop fire retardant and I used to fly with some of the fliers in these planes and helicopters.”

Besides the thrill of traveling at speeds in excess of 500 m.p.h., there are other aspects of flying that Secord enjoys.

“It’s a freedom-type thing,” he said. “One of the things I was looking forward to was the fishing and hunting in the different areas in Northern Ontario by plane. We see some of the most spectacular scenery, being in an airplane. I call it the best office window of any job I can think of.”

Secord has witnessed many breathtaking views from the sky: Rays of a sunset shine through the clouds in a developing storm; the Grand Canyon with a sprinkling of snow in it; the Rocky Mountains and their snowcaps; active volcanoes in Mexico City; Mount Rainier in Seattle; and the Silica Dome in the State Park of San Francisco.

The challenges of flying can be similar to the game-by-game challenge of an NHL player, Secord says. You must plan the flight before you leave the ground and “know all the information before you close the door,” just like you need to know the game plan and the opposing team before taking the ice in a big game. There are also elements out of one’s control, such as inclement weather while flying, or an injury or flu bug going through a dressing room.

One comparison Secord makes is the discipline a player or pilot must have in taking care of his body.

“If you look at most pilots walking through a terminal, most guys are very fit, they look very healthy,” Secord said. “We have to be aware of our sleep patterns, our eating, our exercise regime, so that when we step into the cockpit we’re at our best. That’s the same with hockey, where you have to be aware of your sleep, your food, and your fitness level.”

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